QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On a sunny Monday morning, the woods at the back end of SUNY Adirondack were a busy place. The school’s Outdoor Education program, joined by any volunteers who wanted to take part, were out with shovels, gloves, and buckets of saplings ready to find a new home.

“You’ve got to respect what’s given to you,” said Mark Kyzyka, a student in the Outdoor Education program, as he walked through a path to plant some tree saplings on Monday. “What’s given to us by mother nature, natural resources and essentials, and giving back.”

Kyzyka and others were out in the woods planting a variety of trees and plants for the school’s 17th annual tree planting on Monday, in recognition of Earth Day, which was officially recognized last Friday. Busy hands and shovels were planting over 500 trees and shrubs, signing in at a table where the woods’ edge meets the rest of the campus. Planted plants included American cranberry, red osier dogwood, elderberry, witch hazel, American hazelnut, arrowwood, white oak, white birch, serviceberry, Norway spruce, blue spruce, American pussy willow and American chestnut.

As things got going after noon on Monday, associate professor Clint McCarthy was planting American elderberry twigs near the college’s Residence Life building. The elderberry, like all of the plants on the list, is local to Queensbury and the surrounding southern tip of the Adirondacks. Many of the saplings are purchased by the school from Warren County, but some – like the American elderberry – come from McCarthy’s own farm.

“It’ll be beautiful when they flower,” McCarthy said. “That’ll be a year from now, so next July. What I like about them is the deer can chew on them and they’ll come right back.”

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Saplings are placed in buckets, like this bucket of white oak, for students to plant where they please in the woods behind SUNY Adirondack on Monday. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

Planting things that will thrive in the woods is the point of the whole effort. In some places, students planted ash trees in spots that had been identified where trees had died off without replenishing. The ash tree is threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, an invasive species with recent sightings in the Adirondacks. Other students cleared dead, fallen branches, revealing soft soil underneath where more planting would soon commence.

Students are given minimal instruction. Kyzyka and fellow student Ray Stockin were given an idea of where to go, along with shovels and gloves, and sent to find where buckets of white oak saplings had already been placed, a quarter-mile into the woods. That kind of freedom is important to teaching Outdoor Education students how to operate when caring for the wild.

“The way that Clint and a lot of facilitators want us to learn is like, you learn by making mistakes,” said Kyzyka. “You learn by failing. Make good mistakes, and that’s where you’re coming from. You obviously know if you’ve planted it upside-down or sideways.”

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SUNY Adirondack Outdoor Education students Mark Kyzyka, left, and Ray Stockin discuss where to plant some of the white oak trees they have been tasked with planting at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, N.Y. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

The Outdoor Education program does a lot more than plant new trees. They also remove ones that shouldn’t be there. Since 2020, members of the program have removed over 1.5 acres of invasive honeysuckle and common buckthorn. and planted over 400 trees and shrubs in their place.

It’s an education that can go many places. Stockin doesn’t know exactly what his path will be after he finishes the course, but says that nature will forever be a part of his life, whether through his career or not. Kyzyka serves as a river guide on the Hudson River, and says that being a guide could easily be his future. Leading people out onto a river, up a mountain or into the woods is a great way to pass the importance of protecting the environment along.

“It’s about teaching people what they’re seeing, and what they can do with what’s around them in Mother Earth. How you can build a fire, how you can survive in the backcountry, and how you can respect it.”

Earth Day was recognized far and wide in the area on Friday and Saturday. An event was held in City Park in Glens Falls, and SUNY Adirondack hosted a 5K race. Cleanup events were scheduled all through Glens Falls, Queensbury and more.